Saturday, August 19, 2017

Homeward Bound

Thursday's run into work was the last run commute of the week. The legs felt somewhere between tired and okay. I took it easy until I got to Sandymount promenade when a runner got onto my tail. As much as I tried NOT to get into a silly little race, I could not help accelerating a bit. He stayed right there on my tail - I think he used me as a pacemaker for a mile or 2 of tempo effort. Mind, it still was only 7:40-ish pace, so neither of us was going as fast as we thought we were, I suppose. On the plus side, the legs felt all the better for it!

Since I'm driving to Kerry on Fridays, that day of the week I'm running early, before setting off to work. I did a slightly short run but ended it with a couple of hill sprints. That was just for testing out things - see how the legs would respond when suddenly being asked to work at full power (they seemed fine) and if that steep little rise near home was suitable (just about long enough for 8 seconds). This time round it was only 2 sprints - I'll do more next time, and certainly not after 6 miles of running. You want you legs to be somewhat fresh when sprinting.

I was back home on Saturday so I went out for a 10 mile run along Caragh Lake. According to strava this was my first 10 mile run on that road for almost 1 months! Seriously? It used to be my bread and butter run, several times a week before work! Anyway, I really enjoyed being back on that road, so familiar that I know all of the stone chippings by name. The legs seemed to enjoy it as well, they felt pretty good and didn't even mind the stiff headwind.

After complaining last week that my numbers had stagnated, this week has seen another massive jump in the numbers. I've been astounded by seeing the HR in the mid 140 already and the HR alarm, which used to go on incessantly even on easy efforts, has more or less remained silent. I haven't even been back running for 3 weeks yet; what's it going to be like in 10 months?
16 Aug
9.2 miles, 1:16:34, 8:19 pace, HR 151
17 Aug
9.15 miles, 1:13:42, 8:03 pace, HR 150
18 Aug
6.5 miles, 53:21, 8:12 pace, HR 146
   2 hill sprints
19 Aug
10 miles, 1:21:35, 8:09 pace, HR 145

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ardmore

I don't exactly have a lot of experience with 5 star hotels, but out of the 4 I have stayed in the Cliff Hotel in Ardmore, Waterford, reigns supreme. The location, the room, the service, the meals ... bloody hell. Incidentally, that's also what my bank manager will say in a couple of weeks when he sees the bill as this was my first stay in said establishments where I had to foot the bill myself. Ah well, it's the least the lady deserved after 20 years with me!

Oh, you wanted to hear about running? Actually, Ardmore is a great spot for running as well. On Saturday I did a run a on stony trail along the cliffs, the major drawback being that the stunning views and the stony grounds had me stumble a few times and while I managed to avoid a face plant, or falling off the cliff, grabbing a gorse bush for hold wasn't the smartest thing ever and my hand is still sore, a few days later.

It's a great place to build up your hill running fitness - the one thing missing being flat roads. But the roads were so quiet, there was even less traffic than in Caragh lake - I never once encountered a car outside Ardmore itself.

Alas, by Monday morning reality had caught up again and I was back in Dublin. This week I started my new commute routine. Monday, cycling into work, running home. Tuesday, running into work, cycling home. Same again on Wednesday - Thursday, and then the car on Friday to enable a quick exit back to Kerry. It's just over 9 miles each way, which is a good bit longer than the runs I had done up to now. Thankfully, my legs had appreciated the weekend in Ardmore and rebounded well, so even though the run back home was longer than usual, uphill and against the wind, never mind the pouring rain, I got home just fine and still feeling pretty good. However, doing the same in return just 12 hours was just a bit much and the last 3 miles were definitely dragging. I'll see how that goes but I'm sure things will pick up quickly again.
12 Aug
6 miles, 51:45, 8:38 pace, HR 147
   partially on trail
13 Aug
6.4 miles, 52:56, 8:16 pace, HR 146
14 Aug
9.15 miles, 1:15:09, 8:13 pace, HR 148
15 Aug
9.15 miles, 1:16:33, 8:22 pace, HR 150

Friday, August 11, 2017

Patience? Adjustments?

Surely it is a bit early to be getting impatient already? I've been back on the road for less than 2 weeks now and I'm already starting to wish this would go a bit quicker! I know that's a bit silly, especially since I mentioned a 13 seconds per mile improvement over 4 days in my last post, which is hardly lack of progress. The thing is, the legs have felt rather heavy the last couple of days. I think it's the combined load of running 6 miles and cycling 18 (my commute) that's responsible for that. However, since I'm not cycling on Fridays (because I'm heading out of town straight after work) and the weekend I figured I keep going as it is and see if I feel better by Monday. If not then I will have to cut back a bit - which feels ridiculous, as I'm not even running 45 miles this week!

But yes, there was a distinct lack of progress all of a sudden, the last few days, and if it staus that way I need to ease up.

Yesterday morning my chest felt a bit restricted, which was not a nice feeling at all. It was like I had only 75% of lung capacity available - thankfully I didn't need any more at my slow pace, and after a few miles that restriction went away. I'm not sure what it was - I don't have hay fever at this time of year, and I'm not asthmatic.

I've been experimenting with a couple of routes for my cycle commute and the one I prefer happens to be the same path I'm doing most of my running on at the moment. I'm actually surprised that it is so quiet - I would have thought it would be much, much busier. I prefer a few miles of cycle paths away from roads and away from traffic lights. Why don't the rest of you?

Anyway, I'm looking forward to my weekend now. If you're looking for me, I'll be the one in the posh and expensive hotel.
8 Aug
6.3 miles, 51:14, 8:08 pace, HR 149
9 Aug
6.3 miles, 51:30, 8:10 pace, HR 149
10 Aug
6.3 miles, 50:57, 8:05 pace, HR 151
11 Aug
6.3 miles, 51:24, 8:10 pace, HR 151

Monday, August 07, 2017

A New Beginning

I'm only having sporadic access to a computer at the moment, so there is the possibility of longer breaks between posts at the moment. The reason for that is that I figured I'm spending way too much time in front of a screen - 8-9 hours a day at work and then another 2 or more at home. So I decided not to get a computer in my new apartment. I might change my mind after a while - but not yet. Right now I'm tempted to throw away my phone as well. I'm wasting far too much time being plugged in when I should just go out and enjoy a walk in the fresh air or something like that.

Maybe I'm just getting old.

At least my running is taking off again. I've slowly upped the mileage this week, though it's still rather modest. As in previous training cycles, the HR at the moment is sky high but I'm not taking any notice of that. It will come down quickly over the next few weeks into more "acceptable" territory. I've been through that often enough by now. Today already was 13 seconds quicker per mile than 4 days ago, despite running further. If only progress kept going at that rate!

I've moved into a new flat. It's good to have a place of my own again. It's further away from work, not quite 9 miles, which, unlike most, I actually see as a positive. I'm already looking forward to cycling and running in and out of work on my new route. Today is a bank holiday, so tomorrow will be the first day of my new commute.

When looking at running options at my new abode via google maps I realised that I had been running close to that area for years every time I had been in Dublin. I just had not noticed that the paths from Dean's Grange through Kilbogget on onwards were less than a mile from here. It also means that for the first time in my running life I'm just a warm-up jog away from a track, albeit a dirt track. Still, it will undoubtedly see some use over the next few months.

I'm now up to 6.5 miles in my daily runs, which I'm adapting to reasonably quickly, so I'll soon feel up to running either in our out of work. And then, after a little more time, real training can begin.
3 Aug
4 miles, 33:21, 8:20 pace, HR 153
4 Aug
4 miles, 32:00, 8:00 pace, HR 158
5 Aug
5 miles, 42:07, 8:25 pace, HR 151
6 Aug
6.5 miles, 53:22, 8:12 pace, HR 148
7 Aug
6.25 miles, 50:46, 8:07 pace, HR 153

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Ultra Begins - The Reboot!

It feels good to be back!

Well. Ok. Actually, it doesn't feel all the great. Physically, that is. Mentally I'm happy like a pig in the proverbial.

I set out on a glorious Monday morning, the first run after a break of 4 weeks. My watch must have lost something during that break because it first took ages to pick up the satellite and then overestimated the distance by at least 10% during the first mile. Never mind, forget the watch, it's teh legs that matter. I expected this to be a slow 10-minute mile slog and me being exhausted after 2 miles. Instead I felt much better than I could have hoped for and after the 2 miles were over decided to tack on some extra. I actually sped up with each lap and was cruising close to 7:30 pace at the end. After 3 miles I, slightly reluctantly, went home. This was the first run after a long break and I did not want to overdo it. The last thing I want to do is to out myself out of commission by ramping up too quickly and getting injured before training has even started.

Oh, and it may have been just a tad under 3 miles, owing to the GPS hickup. Let's call it 2.9 miles. Yes, I'm a numbers geek.

I guess I had overdone it anyway. The hamstrings were sore on Tuesday. I ran 2.5 miles, a bit slower. The HR alarm on my watch starts beeping at 150. It beeped again after a mile.

On Wednesday the hamstrings were better but the calves were complaining. Ah, the joys of running. I slogged through the first mile, kind of wishing to be back in bed.

Then I thought of 2 friends (Klemens was a team mate in Turin 2015, Angelika is the team's physio) who are presently running the Deutschlandlauf, a 19-stage race across the entire length of Germany, average stage length 43 miles(!!!), which stopped the inner whining voice for good. I did 3 miles in the rain, this time slowing down a little when the HR alarm but still already faster than the first couple of days.

Right now it's all about getting used to running again. This is very early days, literally.
31 Jul
2.9 miles, 24:07, 8:19 pace, HR 151
1 Aug
2.5 miles, 21:20, 8:31 pace, HR 148
2 Aug
3 miles, 24:10, 8:03 pace, HR 150

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Touristy Things

Yesterday I was running, for miles and miles, completely effortlessly, going much faster than I could have expected, marvelling at how easy it felt after such a long break.

Then I woke up. Ah well. I strongly suspect when I start running again, in the real world, it won't come quite as easily.

Meanwhile I'm just being a tourist. That actually includes a fair amount of walking, so maybe it serves as a tiny little help before I get started again, though I doubt it will make any noticeable difference.

I got one running-related email the the other day, and what a humdinger that was. They reviewed the data from the World Championship in Belfast and the changes at the top end are massive! In the men's results, silver and bronze medals have been reversed. The order of the women's individual results has not changed but another lap got added to Patrycja Bereznowska world record. In the team events the US have gotten a particularly raw deal: their women's gold medals have been downgraded to silver and their men are losing their medals completely after being moved down to fourth. Bloody Hell! I have to say, this does not reflect well on Ireland. I've never seen such a mess.

Oh, and my own results are unchanged. That's not unexpected - I had analysed my own data already and found it perfectly plausible - if very, very disappointing.

Meanwhile, I have decided to definitely give the 24 hours one more go. I want to know if I still have it in me. I have plenty of plans of running hundreds of miles in preparation - if that's what happens, we shall see. It worked in 2014!

Meanwhile, here are some touristy impressions of Vienna:

















Thursday, July 20, 2017

Idleness

What does a runner do when he's not running? Mostly thinking about running, I suppose. Usually I'd start training again when I get as itchy as I am now but since I'm about to go away on holidays I'll add another week of full rest.

I noticed that some of my clothes are starting to fit me again. I haven't stepped on a weighing scale recently but the fact that I no longer require a belt to stop my trousers from falling down indicates that I have put on a few pounds - no bad thing, really.

When I first started my new job and saw that they get a delivery of fresh fruit twice a week I thought the quality of my diet would take a step up. I didn't account for the fact that there is also a culture of having a constant supply of biscuits and chocolate at the ready, plus there is a baking roster every Friday, so with my notorious sweet tooth my sugar intake has probably spiked - not good, and something I will need to get on top of. But the month after a big race is not the time to return to an ascetic existence just yet.

I do have a problem with one of the muscles in my left thigh. I think it's the sartorius muscle, though I could be off by one muscle in that group. I start feeling a burning sensation after prolonged sitting, which can become seriously uncomfortable (and I like to think my pain threshold is rather high). It all started last autumn but eventually went away earlier this year, only to come back recently. The pain disappears almost immediately when I get up and walk around but if I'm stuck in a meeting that's not always possible. Sitting in the car for 4 hours when driving from or to Kerry isn't ideal either. In fact, I strongly suspect that the long hours of driving have something to do with this re-occurring. I haven't managed to convince the missus that she should come up to visit  me on weekends rather than the other way round, though.

But first I'm off to Vienna for a week. Prost!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Good Morning Forrest"

I've acquired a new nickname at work. It's not the most original of nicknames, I know. Besides, I would have thought Brian Ankers had than angle covered already, in perpetuity.

People have been congratulating me all the time since that race and every time I feel like screaming that it was my worst performance ever.

Time heals the wounded I suppose. The legs are feeling perfectly recovered but the mind is still on hibernation. Anyway, I know from last year that it's not a good idea to rush back into training, so I won't.

I do, however, want to give it one more go. My 24 hours career started with 3 very good races in a row and continued with 3 disappointing ones after that, so I guess I need a tie breaker to decide if it was good or bad. I am wondering what went so wrong in Belfast, my head or my legs, but I strongly suspect it was the legs. Whether that was down to old age or not enough miles in training I can't tell for sure. However, I won't be going into my next training cycle in an overtrained state, so it's definitely worth giving it one more try. Where that will be, I still don't know. I have plenty of time to make up my mind.

Also, I finally might have found a place to stay in Dublin, though it's not finalised yet. Am I nuts for preferring a place a bit further out so I can get a decent run in as my commute (don't answer that!)?

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Wounded


It's been a week since Belfast and I've had plenty of time licking my wounds. Mental wounds, that is. Physically I'm nowhere near as bad as I expected to be - I didn't run far enough to do myself some real proper damage, I suppose.

When things were still fun, 5 or 6 hours in
I have spent many hours of the Belfast race, as well as many before and many since, wondering if I had done myself some damage during the Spartathlon in 2015. It had been a monumental effort, pushing myself far beyond anything I have ever done before or since, including the day when I ran 225k. I have never felt 100% since that race.

I still don't know.  Maybe I'm just worrying too much, and maybe I'm just coming up with that as an excuse every time I hit the buffers.

On the other hand, I know I was lacking in miles during the training, both in long runs as well as overall mileage. I was coming back from overtraining, so there was a limit on how much I could do, and in the end it wasn't quite sufficient. I did okay for 12 hours. Then the tank was empty.

I managed to get my lap times from the IAU website and put them into a spreadsheet. I noticed two things straight away. One, right from the start they are a bit slower than what my watch said. Two, they look believable. There is talk that the official results might be unreliable. I think mine are correct. The organisers didn't help themselves by displaying wrong information during the race and then not displaying anything at all, but my numbers withstood a closer examination.

And when I created a little graph, it didn't make for pleasant viewing.

Right now, I'm doing fine physically. I could walk down a staircase without wincing even the day after the race. I don't think I've ever taken so little damage out of a long ultra. One of my toenails is dark and I expect it may come off eventually, everything else is fine.

Definitely no longer fun. Photo by The Galway COW
Mentally, I'm more affected. I've had two very disappointing races in a row, both of them international races. My career in the national team may well be finished, and I sure would have preferred to go out in a different way. But after some thought, and with the memory of the pain fading already, I'm coming round to the idea of giving it one more shot, next year. I don't know where yet. I'm definitely never going back onto the concrete of Victoria Park but if they move that race back onto the Mary Peters track I will consider it. There are other options as well, but we'll see. There is a long time left until I have to make a decision.

Meanwhile, I'm taking the entire July off. That will coincide with a week of holiday, which means that for once I might actually be able to go on holidays with normal clothes - usually my running gear more or less fills the suitcase and everything else will have to be rationed, much to Niamh's chagrin. After that I will start running again, mostly for fun for the rest of the year.



Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Anatomy Of A Disaster

In the days leading up to the race I felt strangely detached from it all, as if I was watching from the outside. That was very much n contrast to 2 years ago, in Turin, when I had been a bundle of nerves for several days. Maybe the fact that my home race was suddenly the World Championship made it all feel unreal to me, but I did wonder why my head wasn't in it.

Things changed completely overnight. As soon as I woke up on Saturday, race day, I panicked at the thought of having to run for 24 hours. Breakfast was a nervous affair and the last minute packing was all a bit frantic, even though I literally had hours to spare.

I calmed down somewhat when I met my Austrian team mates at the race course and we all got ready for the start. Then, with about 30 minutes to go, I suddenly realized that I had no idea where my timing chip was. I went through all my belongings, increasingly panicky and out of my mind, until our team manager suggested talking to the RD. I have known the RD, Ed Smith, for years, which helped and within a few minutes he had procured a timing chip from one of the open race competitors that had not turned up, and they re-programmed it on the spot. Problem solved, panic averted. I owe Ed a pint or five. Reinhold, the team manager, quipped that a last-minute adrenaline shot may have some positive effects, and that was that. By now it was time to gather for the start.

Things weren't quite as organized, many open race and international runners seemed mingled together rather than separated as they had been in Turin and Albi, not that it made any difference to me. At 12 o'clock we all set off on our long, long journey, at a very sedate pace. This was going to last for quite some time.

I settled into the slowest pace that still felt comfortable. That's tricky, especially when you're full of energy and have been raring to go for quite some time. For me, it was just under 9-minute miles. According to my strava data my third mile was a tiny bit quick at 8:35 but the rest was more in line with expectations - and 8:35 isn't THAT quick, not even for a 24. In my best races I had faster miles in there.

The race course was the same as for the Irish championships last year, Victoria Park. Since last year's race I have mixed feelings about the setting. The park itself is marvelous and the course is very flat. However, the running surface is made of concrete. Last year a lot of runners gave up at some point because their legs could not stand the brutally hard surface any more. But many of the ones who managed to keep going posted great results, so it's a tough but potentially fast course. I guess that makes for an intriguing world championship.

The weather forecast had been excellent for running with temperatures no higher than 16 or 18 degrees, depending on whom you believed, and maybe a little bit of rain in the evening. The temperature bit was right but the rain arrived much earlier than forecast and we were treated to some typical Irish weather in the still early hours of the race - rain, followed by sunshine 5 minutes later, followed by some more rain, and repeat. Eventually the rain stopped, and I heard the announcer saying something about the next 18 hours being dry, which turned out to be correct. All in all, the conditions for running were excellent.

During one of the early laps I looked up and right in front of me there was Patrycja Bereznowska running just a few steps behind Tracy Falbo. How often do you have the chance to witness two world record holders live in action like that?

I passed the marathon mark pretty much exactly in 4 hours. That's what I expect to be my early pace in all of my 24 hour races, so all was good. And, most importantly, I felt good, very much in contrast to Albi last year when I was totally knackered at that point already. Things were definitely looking good and I was optimistic for the next 20 hours ahead.

With this being my home race there were tons of friends around, some of them running the course, either as internationals or in the open race, but also as spectators, volunteers and crew. I got plenty of cheers. That's what I love about ultra running. Virtually everyone is supportive and friendly and there is always a ton of mutual respect amongst all the runners. It's what shared suffering does to a group of people, I suppose.

I did have a bit of a problem with the fact that international runners were not allowed to run together with anyone from the open race, or anyone from the other gender, because that could be interpreted as illegal pacing. Obviously, many times I found myself running side-by-side with someone I knew very well, and of course we did chat for a few minutes. However, I was always conscious of that rule, so after a while I always had to send them off again, not daring to risk the wrath of the judges - though in reality I think they weren't bothered by runners chatting while running together for a lap or two.

Running for many hours in a 1-mile loop doesn't lend itself to a race report because details are merging into each other, time gets lost and the increasing fatigue plays all kind of tricks on you.

At one point Katy Nagy went past me and a few second later Florian Reus did the same, so I had a front seat witnessing the two reigning World champions greeting each other happily, and the mutual respect between those two great athletes was great to see.

I still felt pretty good during the second marathon and reached 80k in about 8 hours. 10 km per hour is exactly what I expect to run for many an hour - in Belfast 2014 I managed it for almost 16 hours before slowing down, so it certainly did not ring any alarm bells whatsoever. But I must have started slowing down a bit around that time, though very gradually at first. I still felt reasonably okay. Obviously there was a fair amount of fatigue but after so many hours that was perfectly normal, especially with my usual bedtime approaching.

My stomach held up well. At some point I took some caffeine, after which it felt a bit iffy for a while, but it settled down again and all was good. Lack of nutrition certainly was not an issue today. I drank plenty but didn't use the toilet for almost 10 hours, which may be longer than you might expect but not unusual for me.

At one point Pat Robbins passed me (again) and when I said "Hi Pat", as you do, he did something I really had not expected, he slowed down to my pace for half a lap and we had a nice little chat for a few minutes. Thanks Pat, very much appreciated! It wasn't just him, the entire British team were absolute top class, as runners as well as extremely nice human beings. So were the Irish. And a few others. Have I mentioned how much I love the camaraderie and mutual support amongst ultra runners?

There was a screen with lap times and overall mileage at the start/finish line. That was a great feedback device and in fact that screen was the reason why I wore my glasses today. Usually I'm happy enough to run half-blind but today I wanted to be able to check my progress, which is important, mentally especially. Therefore it was a bit annoying that it kept failing, either being frozen or turned off completely. At first I thought the rain had affected it but they got it working again and then it remained dry, yet the screen kept failing again and again. Not good.

The other thing that wasn't good was that my legs started complaining. Obviously everyone gets tired after running for many hours. I get that. But I have been there many times before, and the way my legs went downhill wasn't the same. It was the quads especially, though the hamstrings weren't happy either. By contrast, my calf muscles, so often my weak spot, were behaving impeccably. Before the race I would have bet my house on the fact that the weakest link would be my calves.

Anyway, working somewhere in the haze of increasing exhaustion and burning quads, I kept going. And going. And going. I was still happy enough with my progress but then I noticed something very strange. A look at the screen, showed me at 88 laps. When I then looked at my watch, it said 83 miles. That did not make sense because 83 miles on a loop of just over 1 mile would be closer to 81 or 82 laps. I think I was still puzzling at the conundrum (the brain starts working in slow motion after so many hours of running) when a few laps later the screen said 95 laps when a look at my watch said it could not be more than 85 laps. What the **** was going on here? Were they counting laps twice? Was my "borrowed" timing chip an issue? I resolved to check again the next lap but when I came through the finish the screen was blank again. I didn't know it at the time, but it would remain blank for the entire rest of the race!

Things are getting increasingly hazy from here on, so some details and times may be getting mixed up. My legs went downhill very quickly. I went from running the entire lap to walking through the feed zone, to walking half a lap, to walking the entire lap in an alarmingly rapid decline. My energy levels seemed fine and my stomach was still taking just about anything they gave me. But my quads were shot and I just could not lift the legs any more. Walking was okay for the time being and I was optimistic that the good times would return eventually - in a 24 hours race you will always have big ups and downs, you just have to handle them.

From my watch as well as the screen I figured I had been close to 120k at the halfway mark, so a decent final tally seemed still on the cards. It was now past midnight and once I stopped running I got cold quickly, so I put on my jacket. The other things I noticed was that I had to go to the toilet almost every lap - and that after not going at all for the first 10 hours! I reduced my fluid intake, which got that issue back into balance. However, my quads just would no cooperate.

At one point, in desperation, I took one paracetamol. I did not like doing that. It's just a bad idea. Pain is there for a reason and masking it to push yourself through it is just asking for injury and health issues, but there comes a point when you try just about anything. Well, it did get me back running. For all of three laps, so about half an hour. Then it was over again. No more running. I also decided no more pain killers. While I was prepared to hurt, I wasn't prepared to damage myself, at least no more than whatever damage came "naturally".

I won't go into too much detail; I don't want to wallow in misery and go through the entire ordeal again. I spent many hours contemplating quitting, both that race specifically as well as ultra running in general. And of course I wasn't the only one suffering, half the field was struggling, including some of the best runners in the world. I no longer had to worry about being accused of illegal pacing, so I had the chance to chat with Andrew, Darren, Dennis, Aoife, Aine and a few others while we slowly circled Victoria Park again and again and again (apologies to anyone not mentioned).

After a few hours of walking (as well as 12 of running), my feet were swollen and the shoes felt increasingly uncomfortable. The top of my feet seemed to press against the laces so I decided to change shoes. My other pair were some Hokas, which I don't actually like because the cushioning feels wrong and takes away energy from my stride, but they were slightly larger and I knew they would feel better at that stage. When I put on one of the shoes I noticed something in there. I reached inside - and pulled out MY TIMING CHIP!!! So that's where it had been, and if I hadn't completely lost my head in my panic I sure would have found it before the race. Ah well. Too late for that now.

Since this race was held at the start of July and fairly high up north, the night was very short and after only a couple of hours of darkness the light returned already. If I had been running I would have very much welcomed the sun - walking through my misery as I was, it didn't make much of a difference.

At some point our team physio decided to give my quads a massage, to which I agreed only too willingly, mostly because it gave me an excuse to sit down for a couple of minutes. I expected this to be rather painful but she was actually quite gentle. Alas, as far as running was concerned, it did not make any difference whatsoever. My quads remained as dead as a dodo.

My legs weren't the only thing out of whack. Doing constant calculations in my head I kept thinking that 200k were still very much on the cards, until the moment when Finn O'Mara patiently explained to me that with 15 hours gone there were only 9 left to go, not 11 as I kept on thinking. Oops. Actually, the fact that I was disappointed by the fact that my projected mileage had just taken a fatal blow rather than relieved that I was closer to the finish is a good thing. At least mentally I had still been in the race.

The hours ticked by slowly and I was still walking. At some point I stopped questioning myself why I was still doing this because even that started to get old. I really have to thank the crews from the open race for their never-ending support and cheerful attitude. Ger, Don, Audrey, George, … ok, I should not start naming names, I can't possibly list them all. If you were there, consider yourself thanked. I can’t remember all the names, there were too many of you!

Usually towards the end of such a slog you start smelling the finish and the legs start responding again. Not so this time. If anything, things got worse. After too many hours even walking had become increasingly painful and when I tried running again I was more likely to fall over than to gain speed, and now my energy levels dropped to zero and even remaining upright was challenging enough on its own. I remember one particular moment when I needed to use the fence near the finish line to stop myself from falling over but thankfully that was once-off. Right at the end I really was at the end of my tether. I didn’t even hear the final claxon and only reacted to others stopping still.

Done. Finally done. There was a tree nearby and I rested against it, waiting for the measurement wheel to come by. I really wanted to lie down but knew that I would not be able to get up again. However, within less than half a minute (estimated) my ears started ringing and black spots started appearing in front of my eyes. I’ve been there before and knew I had only a couple of seconds before I would pass out. I didn’t want to fall down and bang my head uncontrollably but my legs wouldn’t bend over either. Thankfully two guys nearby saw me and literally caught me. I mumbled something that I was about to faint but probably didn’t sound too coherent, though the message got through. Whoever you were, thanks a lot! I lay in the grass for a while and even that was uncomfortable. Some sugary drink got some balance back into the system and they eventually helped me up and I slowly, very slowly made my way back to the tent.

Not much was said there. I mumbled something along the lines of “I would love to say that was the hardest thing I've ever done but I'm sure Spartathlon was worse!” which pretty much sums up my day. My watch displayed 121.7 miles, and even with the usual slight overestimation you get from a GPS device I thought at least I had cracked 120 miles but the official results have me at 115 miles / 185 km. I have no idea where that massive gap came from. I thought I was very close to 120k at the halfway stage, and surely I must have walked more than 65 k in 12 hours! Maybe the data at the halfway mark was off already, but when I compared the watch and screen data after 50 miles/ 80k / 8 hours, there was about half a mile of difference, so I would have expected a total discrepancy of maybe 1.5 miles at the end, not almost 7 miles!

I'm not disputing the official result, it was just one final disappointment at the end of a thoroughly disappointing race. This just wasn’t good enough. Not good enough for me, and most definitely not good enough by international standards.

Let's finish on a positive note. I once more managed to keep going even when things had long gone south, which must count for something, though I very much preferred never to go there again. And being in the same race where Patrycja Bereznowska set yet another amazing world record was quite something.
1 Jul
24 hrs World Championships, Belfast
185.48 km / 115.25 miles
103rd place / 17th M45

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Belfast 24

A disastrous race for me. I felt really good early on but kept myself in check and didn't think I started out too fast (still don't). However, the legs completely seized up at midnight and then it was just a brutal march to the end.

At some point I took one paracetamol which got me back running for all of 3 laps. I decided that taking another tablet to mask the pain was only asking to do myself some damage, do I didn't.

Oh, and I'm a complete idiot for panicking when I could not find my timing chip 30 minutes before the start. They gave me another one, which caused some minor confusion in the intermediate results. I found my own chip a few hours later in my bag!

I very nearly fainted straight after the end. Thankfully two guys caught me just as I was going down.

Will have to think if I ever want to do this to myself again!

In the official results they have me down for 185 km / 115 miles, which is a lot less than the 122 miles I have on my GPS. I'm not disputing the results, it's just one more disappointment on top of all the others.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Recap

Why do I have that twinge in the Achilles? Is that my knee starting to hurt again? Why are the legs so heavy? Why are the shoulders so tense?

Because I'm in the middle of taper madness, that's why. Phantom pains all over the place.

And I do miss coffee. There's a little devil on my shoulder telling me that going off caffeine the week before a race doesn't make any difference whatsoever. And you know what? She may well be right. But it's become part of my race preparation these days and a lot of these things are more for the head than the body - which becomes all the more important the longer the race, and a 24 hours race is a damn long one.

Back in November, when I took my loudly complaining body back out onto the roads again, after taking a month off following a disastrous performance at the European champs in Albi, I was wondering if there was any point in trying to get back to international standard. I had been badly overtrained and I would be 47 years old by the time the next championships would come around, and I had serious doubts if I would be able to get back into that sort of shape.

Thanks to MC and his invaluable help, things progressed much better than I could have hoped for. I was still in fairly awful shape around Christmas but then things really took off and my form numbers just shot up like a rocket for several months. It was the biggest improvement in form I had ever seen, and it lasted until late April.

Then I ran the Longford Canal ultra, which went very well, and - unwisely - did a workout 6 days later. The workout itself seemed to go exceptionally well; it was the first time ever I had managed to surprise the coach with my numbers. But the next day my knee was hurting and things went downhill after that. Within a short while my Achilles gave me troubles as well, and we diagnosed it as one of those things that require gentle movement rather than full rest to heal. The Achilles, like all tendons, heals slowly and it took close to 5 weeks to feel mostly back to normal, by which time my numbers had regressed significantly.

It's not all doom and gloom. Eventually they picked up rapidly again and right now I'm pretty happy with my form. It's not what it would have been without that injury, but injuries are part and parcel of running and I have been very lucky over the years to be able to train as consistently as I have.

This will definitely be the ultra race I go into the most rested, no big 100k efforts a few weeks out and no 3:05 marathons (or faster) in the buildup, and chances are my legs will thank me for it, but all will be revealed on Saturday (and Sunday!).

Now it's time to put up the legs, trying not to stress out about the fact that I can't find any of my number belts or that the new shoes that I had ordered 8 weeks ago and intended to wear for the race never arrived. These things will fade into nothing once the race starts, so just relax.

The last few days I just ran a few miles, trying to relax as much as possible and tune into ultra mode. By the looks of it I'm getting better at the shuffle rather quickly.

Bring it on!
26 Jun
5.4 miles, 46:56, 8:41 pace, HR 130
27 Jun
5 miles, 43:09, 8:37 pace, HR 132
28 Jun
4 miles, 35:31, 8:53 pace, HR 125

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Frog In Boiling Water

When your weekend long run consists of 7 miles you know it's taper time!

When the coach told me last week to bin all workouts and keep the length of all runs to 7 miles I suspected that he merely took the lowest possible mileage he thought I would accept without revolting rather than base it on any physiological data. Anyway, I stuck to that.

7 easy miles on Monday home from work.

7 easy miles on Tuesday into work.

7 easy miles on Wednesday home from work.

7 easy miles on Thursday into work.

7 easy miles on Friday around some swanky parts of South Dublin.

On Saturday I was back home in Kerry. I was looking forward to running along the lake again but changed that and did one more heat adaptation run. Technically it was my only heat adaptation run this time round but with the high temperatures for the week before I think I must have gotten some adaptation from that as well. Anyway, after checking my own blog on how to do it I wrapped myself in 4 layers (long-sleeved shirt, cotton t-shirt, fleece jacket, running jacket), donned hat and gloves, and put myself onto the treadmill with the window closed and a podcast in my ear. I chose the treadmill as it's safer than the road when you're wrapped up like that and since I easily tend to overheat on the treadmill anyway it makes it practical for such a workout. I started out very easy and set the pace to 6 mph - 10 minute miles. That was as slow as I could go while still feeling comfortable, though I am aware that it's still faster than what I will be doing in Belfast next week. I soon got hot and I did 50 minutes of that, slowly steaming myself. The heat inside my layers rose steadily but almost imperceptibly. I found the HR graph afterward very interesting, rising almost linearly from below 100 at the start to 150 at the end, apart from one, er, technical glitch a few minutes in. I ran as easily as possible, the treadmill made sure the pace was completely constant, and I was never aware that the HR was rising at all.

I stepped off after 50 minutes, trying not to stress myself too much with a week to go to race day. The leg muscles probably didn't even know this had been a run at all.

Sunday was more conventional, 7 miles along the lake. Actually I had planned to run only 6 but sailed past the 3-mile point, my mind too far tuned out to realise, so I ended up with 7 out of pure habit. Again, I ran as easily as I could without feeling uncomfortable. It was a tad faster than on the treadmill but still slow enough to fall into some sort of shuffling style. I'll be doing a lot of that next week!

I'm not 100% sure what kind of shape I'm in when it comes to running for 24 hours, but the numbers sure look a lot better than before Albi. Back then the last run had been 10 beats higher for a similar pace as today, and the one before that had been 45 seconds per mile slower for a higher HR - I guess I'll gladly take today's numbers.

22 Jun
7 miles, 55:57, 8:00 pace, HR 141
23 Jun
7 miles, 55:06, 7:52 pace, HR 143
24 Jun
5 miles, 50:00, 10:00 pace, HR 126
   heat adaptation run
25 Jun
7 miles, 1:01:34, 8:47 pace, HR 129

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Happy Solstice

APOD
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170621.html
For once, solstice actually seems to coincide with some proper summer weather here in Ireland, if you ignore the rain this morning, that is. We're getting some actual heat training done here, with the temperatures predicted to hit 28 degrees in Dublin today (20 in Kerry - ah well, I've left that behind), though when I was running home from work at 6 pm it definitely wasn't quite as got as that. The humidity made up for any shortfall, though. However, that's apparently the last of it, from tomorrow it's back to the usual grey skies. Sneaking a quick preview at the forecast for race day, in full knowledge that they haven't got a clue what the weather really will be like in 10 days' time, it will still be back to normal, clouds with the occasional rain shower. Actually, that would do me just fine.

Following last week's late hard push, this week is all about recovery, and a full one at that. The coach took one look at my recovery and cancelled any further workouts, including the taper workout for next week. I think that suits me fine because I messed up that very workout when I did it as a test before Cork, and I'd rather not go into Belfast with already fatigued legs. Since Albi I know what's it like to start a 24 hours run on already tired legs and I'd rather not repeat that experience.

So, it's all short and it's all easy running, a fairly radical taper. I haven't gone completely mad yet due to lack of exercise and endorphin withdrawal; at least I haven't noticed it yet.
19 Jun
7 miles, 56:26, 8:03 pace, HR 139
20 Jun
7 miles, 57:14, 8:10 pace, HR 135
21 Jun
7 miles, 56:56, 8:06 pace, HR 144

Sunday, June 18, 2017

One Last Big Effort

Usually I would have started to take it easy by now. While I never quite managed to figure out the ideal length of a taper, a 24 hours race seems to call for a longer taper, but maybe it just doesn't quite work like that. The coach definitely had other ideas - I've had quite some week,

Having gotten through Wednesday's alternating loops in very good shape I took it very easy for the next 2 days. In the olden days I used to push the pace a little bit even on my easy days, basically always trying to run under 8-minute miles, but at some stage I must have grown up a bit and now I no longer care. Easy days are just that, very easy running without ever looking at the watch.

I still wasn't quite sure if I was ready for another workout on Saturday morning but decided to give it a good go. The schedule asked for the second pickups workout. The previous one, 3 weeks ago, had gone very well but now the coach turned the screw further and this was going to be tougher: half miles at fast pace interspersed with miles at 7:20 pace.

Right from the start, 7:20 pace felt aggressive, and of course it didn't help that I had run the first half mile faster than I should have. I did wonder straight away how long I was going to last. It also didn't help that it was already quite warm - it's over 20 degrees right now even in Kerry, which counts as a heat wave by local standards, Not that I'm complaining - but it didn't make that workout any easier.

Anyway, running this in Kerry meant I didn't have the very convenient half mile loop in the park at my disposal, which meant I was looking at the watch a lot more often, which subsequently meant I wasn't pacing myself off effort as much as I would have liked. But even in cooler temperatures and in the park, 7:20 would still have been an aggressive "recovery" pace and it would always have been a challenging workout.

6:27 / 7:21 / 6:36 / 7:23 / 6:49 / 7:19 / 6:44 / 7:22 / 6:28 / 7:17 / 6:36 / 7:27 and bailed after 0.2

I lasted for 6 segments. The sixth was already a bit compromised as I tried for another 6:30 but that was just that little bit too hard. After that, I tried to get back to 7:20 for recovery but realised very soon that I was cooked and pulled the plug. I could have pushed on further with some big effort but 2 weeks from the race that would have been counter-productive; if anything I should have bailed 1 repeat earlier because you should always end a workout with 1 still left in the tank.

Afterwards (and only afterwards) the coach told me that this had been a real redline workout, as hard as any he would ever give me.

And with that, I am definitely in my taper. The madness is about to start.
15 Jun
6.2 miles, 50:01, 8:04 pace, HR 139
16 Jun
8 miles, 1:06:38, 8:19 pace, HR 136
17 Jun
12 miles, 1:29:38, 7:28 pace, HR 156
   6:27 / 7:21 / 6:36 / 7:23 / 6:49 / 7:19 / 6:44 / 7:22 / 6:28 / 7:17 / 6:36 / 7:27 and bailed after 0.2
18 Jun
7 miles, 58:30, 8:20 pace, HR 134

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Working Through Recovery

My honest opinion is you are digging that hole again Thomas, why the hell you did that hill workout and what i consider a heavy week post a full hard marathon i do not know
Thanks for your comment, Keith.

The reason I ran up a hill on Saturday is that I always felt I recover very quickly from those kind of runs, much faster than from a road workout, which is exactly what I wanted. As for digging myself into a hole, I sure have previous on that so I definitely won't dismiss it. But right now I'm trusting my coach not to let that happen. One thing that speaks against the hole theory is that my numbers are improving rapidly again, getting close to the best numbers I have posted in this training cycle. In contrast, last autumn they were consistently dire.

I did a couple of easy runs at the start of the week, in fact we added one extra easy day compared to the original schedule. They both went well and the numbers looked pretty damn good, though I can still feel some tightness in my glutes, which I think is still a residue of the marathon (hills I would expect to affect mostly the calves (uphill) or quads (downhill)).

On Wednesday morning I had the next workout on the program. I ran this in the park close to home, not during a commute. On the plan was laps in the park, fast laps alternating with jogging laps.

I did 1 mile of warm up and needed the first 2 fast laps to feel fully warmed up. I kept feeling a bit slow all the while but tried to concentrate on turning over the legs quickly rather than work myself into the ground. My glutes still felt tight but didn’t get any worse as the miles kept ticking by very quickly.

6:48, 6:46, 6:35, 6:33, 6:40, 6:40, 6:37 - 6:40, 6:42, 6:42 - 6:33, 6:20, 6:23 (6:37 avg)

I tried to increase the pace after 7 but it doesn’t show up in the numbers. I upped the effort once more after 10, which DID show some improvements. Throughout the workout I felt I just could not go any faster but I always felt that I could run plenty more of those laps, so I added a 13th one at the end (the plan had been 12), partially to make up for what I perceived as slow pace, partially because I had plenty left in the tank (indeed, I still could have gone on for at least one more).

Normally I would have balked at the idea of 31 laps in the local park, but alternating fast and slow laps made this surprisingly easy to bear.  Looking at my race history you might think that running little loops for hours would be something I like doing but in fact I usually hate it in a training run. It is entirely different in a race setting, though.

The cool down lasted until I had done 15 miles. Right at the end I finally started to feel tired, which may have been more in the head than the legs. Oh, and somehow I had managed to misplace my HRM chest strap since yesterday and haven't got any HR data for that workout. Ah well.
12 Jun
5.5 miles, 45:35, 8:17 pace, HR 137
13 Jun
5.5 miles, 43:29, 7:54 pace, HR 137
14 Jun
15 miles, 1:57:26, 7:49 pace
   13 half miles @ 6:37 pace avg.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Recovery Shortfall

I used to have recovery from those training marathons dialled in to a T. Five miles a day to start with, listening to the body, then increase the mileage to 8 when it feels right and after a week or so I'd be fresh as rain again.

Whatever happened in the meantime, something has gotten out of whack. The move to Dublin has thrown a few challenges my way and I just don't have the 5 mile route through the woods to Ard-na-Sidhe any more, though I don't think that's the main issue. I suspect I'm still feeling the after-effects of my overtraining from last year, and the one thing that seems to be affected more than anything else is recovery.

It may be age catching up with me as well of course, I'm not far off 50, which doesn't help. But somehow I seem to have lost that fine tuned sense of what I can do after a marathon and still recover.

Initially, recovery started out pretty well.Until Wednesday I was very pleased with how things went. Thursday morning was the first wobble but all was good again in the evening. By Friday, however, the legs seem to have suffered a bad setback. Maybe they didn't like the fact that I ran twice on Thursday. Driving back home to Kerry that evening was rather uncomfortable once more (not as bad as last week, though).

In Cork I had felt the need to strengthen the legs, and the way to do that is to run up long steep hills. I do have some hills in Dublin, the mountains aren't that far off Stillorgan, but as I was in Kerry anyway I headed up on the far more familiar route to Windy Gap. It was a rather stormy day and the legs weren't in best shape, so I took it very, very easy. Of course, taking it easy is a relative term when you're running up a 20% slope on a stony track. The original idea was to drop down to Glenbeigh and tackle the Gap a second time but with my compromised legs I figured I had pushed my luck more than was advisable as it was and headed back home after just one climb.

Why did I run up a mountain when the legs wee already tired? I have found in the past that while hill running feels very tough when you're doing it, it seems to take much less out of the legs than a comparable effort on a road run; recovery has always been very swift, so I figured I could risk it. In fact, I was toying with the idea of heading up for a second time on Sunday morning but then the legs didn't feel quite right and I settled for a very easy jog along the lake instead.

The legs aren't feeling particularly great but the numbers since Cork are actually encouraging. The HR has seen a remarkable drop for any given effort, finally picking up again after sliding backwards since the end of April. Unfortunately, Belfast is only 3 weeks away, which will be too soon for me, but it is what it is.

9 Jun
8 miles, 1:07:40, 8:26 pace, HR 139
10 Jun
10.7 miles, 1:41:43, 9:30 pace, HR 143
   Windy Gap
11 Jun
8 miles, 1:07:56, 8:28 pace, HR 133

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Marathon Recovery

After having a few days to think about it I have concluded that I had messed up last week. I did a taper workout 4 days before the marathon, which included 3 half mile repeats. I ran them too hard, at least the final 2. I was pretty much wiped out afterwards, much in contrast to the pickup workout the previous weekend when I easily could have done more. The legs felt pretty bad the next few days, not when running but when sitting! It made the drive to Kerry on Friday evening seriously uncomfortable. I'm absolutely sure those hills in Cork would have been much less of an issue had I run those repeats just 5 or 10 seconds slower.

Obviously, I have been taking it easy the last few days since the marathon, running-wise that is (work-wise is very very busy, but I love it).

The day after the marathon I was in Castlecove, surrounded by a lot of very hungover friends and family, the look of whom made me glad that I don't drink any more. However, I had one problem: there were no obvious running routes, at least not for road running. The options were 1) the main Ring of Kerry road, 2) some minor local cul-de-sacs, most of them short and all of them very hilly. I really did not fancy the main road and anyway, it wasn't exactly flat either, so a minor local road it would be. One of them happened to go to Staigue Fort, an ancient ring fort, so I decided to combine running and sight seeing. The fort is high up the hills, so it wasn't the most obvious choice for a recovery run the day after a marathon but the location is truly spectacular. I didn't hang around for too long, however, as it started to rain and I was getting cold quickly.

I was pleased how well the legs felt. They were a little bit stiff but the marathon did not seem to have left much of an impression. However, I still made sure to take it exceptionally easy every time I ran.

Funnily enough, the legs felt reasonably ok on the drive to Dublin on Monday evening. That means I had fresher legs the day after a marathon than before - now that's a first!

The running on the following days was just commuting, first alternating running and cycling and then just running on Thursday. The legs felt close to recovered on Wednesday but to my dismay were worse again on Thursday morning (no idea why!). Then again, all it took was 10 hours in the office and they were much better on the evening run back home

All in all I seem to have recovered very, very well. Since the coach states that the way you recover from a workout says more about your conditioning than how the workout itself went, I take this as a very good sign.
5 Jun
5.8 miles, 55:29, 9:33 pace, HR 132
6 Jun
5.35 miles, 44:58, 8:24 pace, HR 135
7 Jun
5.5 miles, 46:00, 8:21 pace, HR 136
8 Jun
am: 5.5 miles, 45:51, 8:20 pace, HR 134
pm: 5.5 miles, 45:13, 8:13 pace, HR 137

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Yes I DO

Running the Cork marathon this year required a bit more logistics than usual. It used to be one of the more local marathons for me but that's no longer the case. It required a long drive from Dublin home to Kerry on Friday evening, another drive to Castlecove on Saturday and a very early start on Sunday to get to Cork in time. I spent a ridiculous amount of hours in the car just to get there!

I had put my name down as one of the pacers, volunteering for any spot from 3:15 upwards, but somehow thing got messed up along the way and five days before the race I had resigned myself to not running it this year. I'm very grateful to Gina form the organising team to come up with a late number for me.

When I had finally made it to the start line, against all odds it felt, I wasn't 100% sure how this would go, with a few issues from the last couple of months clearly having an impact on training and subsequent form. I was actually slightly relieved not to carry a 3:15 pacer balloon because I wasn't 100% confident I would be able to run 3:15 - on the other hand, I have never taken that balloon with 100% confidence in the past either and I've always managed to come through. However, I lined up several lines behind the 3:15 pacers on purpose, to not to block anyone trying to run with that group in case I wasn't able to get up to speed myself.

Very fresh at mile 3. Photo by John Desmond
At least that proved to be unfounded, as soon as we started running I was off at just that pace and I settled within. I had tried to run with a pace group once before, the 3-hour group in Manchester last year, and found it much too crowded, so it was a relief to find a lot more space around me here in Cork. The first few miles felt easy enough, though I was surprised to see an average pace of as fast as 7:15 on the clock - pacer Chris's Garmin was at 7:22 at the time. It goes to show how inaccurate GPS watches can be.

Against the forecast it was a warm, sunny morning, with the temperature much higher than anticipated. In addition to that, it was quite windy - and we had the wind at our back in the early miles. It did mean that those miles felt surprisingly easy but it also meant I could not get any convective cooling and I felt quite hot at times  - so hot that I eventually took off my top for a bit to cool down, though as soon as I did that a cloud appeared - how typical is that - and the shirt went back on soon enough.

Over the years of running the Cork marathon I have always felt the climb out of the tunnel was the hardest climb of the day but with only 8 miles on the legs it always feels perfectly doable. It was when we got out of there that we felt the headwind for the first time and I knew this would become a problem sooner or later - there were an awful lot of miles against that headwind in front of us.

Mile 7, still easy. Photo by Chris Grayson.
My effort levels seemed to oscillate a lot. At times the pace felt so pretty damn hard that I wondered if I was about to drop off the group and 2 minute later I seemed to be jogging along at a sedate pace. Around the 10 or 11 mile mark I think I gradually drifted ahead of the pacers, not on purpose. A look at my watch showed that I was still doing the same pace but somehow there were three of us (Hi Kevin! Hi Stephen!) with a bit of a gap ahead of the rest of the pace group. I decided to just keep going at the same effort level, which really was the same pace as the 3:15 group and we can never have been more than a few seconds ahead of those balloons. We reached the halfway mark in 1:37, which is exactly when I would have wanted to get there for a 3:15 marathon - so far so good. There were about 2 more nice and slightly sheltered miles left on the old railway line, until we got back into town where the real work was about to start.

Once you pass the noise and excitement of the third relay station and the gathered crowds behind, the hilly section starts. With the move to Sunday, they had to make a few changes to that section of the course. There had been some talk of this making the marathon harder, which I had dismissed to be honest; I did not expect it to make any real difference. Be it that my legs were not in the same shape as usual or that the additional dips and drags really made a difference but after a few miles of constant ups and downs I started to falter a bit. The hills were just never ending, and each one started to feel steeper than the previous one. I think the real problem was the relentless headwind, with the section from 11 to 22 miles heading steadily westwards and each step into that direction just took that extra bit of energy to fight the wind.

I kept going, and somehow I was still ahead of the pacers, though my 2 running buddies had gotten separated at some point. Things came finally crashing down around mile 21 when my legs just wouldn't get me up another one of those blasted hill, and, more worryingly, I could sense the early signs of a cramp building up. "Come on Thomas", one of the pacers shouted. (expletive deleted) came the answer. "Come on Thomas", the other pacer shouted.  (expletive deleted) came the answer.  "Come on Thomas", someone shouted. (expletive deleted) came the answer once more, and then they were gone, over the hills and far away. Not good.

At first I completely lost heart and felt like jogging it in easily until the end but once I had finally gotten over that hill I recovered once more and cranked up the pace a bit. By that point there was only one more climb left, which was another struggle, but then we finally turned right and right again and from then on it felt remarkably and substantially easier again. I passed Richie from BMOH, ran with him and his club mate (one of my earlier companions) for a bit but eventually took off again, feeling sufficiently recovered to get back on pace and try to salvage a little bit over the last 4 miles.

Mile 24. Recovered from the worst.
Photo by Joe Murphy
I didn't feel any tailwind but there is no doubt it was there and there is no doubt that it helped. Looking at the mile splits now, only miles 21 and 22 stand out as 7:50 miles, after that I got right back on 7:20 pace. Going faster wasn't really an option, there was a limit to what I dared to do, so the balloons never came any closer but at least they stopped moving away. I passed quite a few runners along that stretch, looking at the results now I moved from 146th at the halfway point to 106th, which seems extraordinary seeing as I didn't exactly have a stellar second half myself. Looking back now the last few miles seemed to pass reasonably quickly though I sure would have denied that notion at the time. A few new extra turns left me a bit disoriented at the end and I wasn't sure how far away I was from the finish until I finally spotted it.

I passed the line in 3:15:14 on my own watch, 3:15:07 official time, so not a total disaster. I wonder what would have happened if I had carried a 3:15 pacer balloon today; I do suspect that it would have given me enough incentive to push just that tiny little bit harder to make sure I was home in time, though we will never know for sure. As for how I felt over the last few miles, I think I could have gone a good bit further, but not faster. This was a training run but it sure felt tougher than that from miles 18 to 22, though the effort got back to more appropriate levels on the home stretch (yes, I know about the wind direction). There are positive signs as well: the HR was surprisingly low at 154, which compares exceptionally well to 157 for a 3:26 marathon in Killarney 3 weeks earlier, so at least my cardiovascular system is in very good shape. My leg muscles on the other hand could do with some improvement, they are definitely still feeling the aftermath of my 2016 misfortunes.

I could not hang around at all afterwards and had to get away straight away - I had to get back to Castlecove where I had a wedding to attend. No, not mine.

1 Jun
6.2 miles, 49:21, 8:01 pace, HR 144
2 Jun
7 miles, 58:58, 8:25 pace, HR 135
3 Jun
4 miles, 33:28, 8:22 pace, HR 137
4 Jun
Cork City marathon
   3:15:14, 7:27 pace, HR 154
5 Jun
5.8 miles, 55:29, 9:34 pace, HR 132
   Staigue Fort, very hilly for a recovery run

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Taper Practise

I got a surprise the other day when I checked my resting HR. It used to be 41/42 back home in Kerry but shot up to 50 when I moved to Dublin, which just goes to show how stressful such a move can be. It gradually decreased again and now has reached the low point of 40 - lower than the Kerry number. However, my running HR for any given pace is usually still 5-10 beats higher than it used to be, so there is no direct correlation to resting HR. Still, I'll take that. At the very least it's a sign that the worst of the stress is behind me.

I'm slowly settling into a rhythm as far as my week is concerned. I cycle into work on Monday morning with office gear for 4 days and then commute by running until Thursday evening when I cycle back home, bringing back all the office gear in a big backpack. On Friday I will usually drive into work and the set off to Kerry for the weekend. That way I get a decent number of miles without having to get up a stupid o'clock and I'm not wasting 2.5 hours a day on the bus either.

The legs felt surprisingly good on my run back home on Monday, which was great after a rather tough weekend. Unfortunately that was just temporary and I was dismayed to find two concrete pillars attached to my hamstrings on Tuesday, though things gradually improved after a few miles.

I was just about to fall asleep Tuesday night when it occurred to me that maybe I should check what it says in the training schedule instead of just jogging to work the next morning. Indeed, the word "taper workout" stared back at me, which rang a faint bell somewhere in the back of my mind; however, while I clearly remembered having done a taper workout before on a few occasions, the details completely escaped me. Old age senility is a bitch. Eventually I managed to dig out an old email stating "4 miles at HR 161, 15 minutes easy, 3 x 880s every 5 minutes". I fell asleep with that plan implanted in my mind.

Things turned out to be a little bit trickier than expected. The initial 4 miles included a 200 feet towards the promenade and the HR would only go so high, though I found myself with the opposite problem on the next 2 miles when the HR seemed to be around 164 every time I checked, no matter how much I tried to relax the effort. I did manage the easy section, alright, though I probably could have picked a better route for the first of the 880s as it included crossing a busy road and I can only assume that it took my focus off running fast, otherwise I can't explain why it was so much slower than the others, which were done inside a park. Things still didn't go completely smoothly there either, first by me getting confused on the second 880 (I told you about the senility, didn't I) and stopping too early and then a group of 3 ladies walking their dogs using extensible leads which formed a formidable ever-expanding obstacle just as I was approaching at close to full tilt. However, I got through it all, though I was close to collapse at the end.

I took it VERY easy on the commute home, though a very strong headwind along the promenade made this rather tricky. Watching the kite surfers do their stuff made that worthwhile, though - very cool!

29 May
5.5 miles, 43:55, 7:59 pace, HR 144
30 May
am: 5.5 miles, 42:39, 7:45 pace, HR 147
pm: 5.5 miles, 43:25, 7:53 pace, HR 147
31 May
am: 9 miles, 1:10:40, 7:51 pace, HR 150
   incl. 4 miles @ 7:03 pace (HR 154), 3 x half mile @ 6:38, 6:14, 6:13
pm: 5.5 miles, 47:03, 8:31 pace, HR 142

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Tired

Training for a big race is always a bit of a balancing act, trying to train as hard as you can while staying on the right side of recovery. I have learned the hard way that the saying that it's better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained is indeed true, but you still need to push the envelope from time to time.

That's exactly what I did the last few days. The legs were a bit heavy on Thursday but felt surprisingly good on Friday morning, so I reverted to the usual Fast Friday routine of a few faster miles, though nothing outrageously fast. It's always a good idea to keep an eye on the HR for those kind of runs; my normal limit is 155. However, Friday was a really muggy day and I could clearly feel the temperature rising as the miles ticked by when the humidity was already at saturation point. The legs felt good, so for once I ignored the HR and kept going, which resulted in a few not terribly fast miles but a rather high HR, though I honestly felt that this was no indication of my actual effort.

Whatever the excuses, a workout on Saturday will mercilessly reveal if you overcooked yourself the day before. In my case I had one of MC's famous pickup workouts on the program, with half miles at a fast, relaxed effort broken up by miles at a steady pace. The crucial bit about those workouts, and one I found hard to get my head around initially, is that the slower miles are actually the more important part. You're not exactly hanging around and the pace needs to be maintained, which teaches the body to recover under stress. If you're too exhausted to keep up the pace at the slower miles then you're finished. Don't cheat with a dead slow mile to hit the faster pace again on the next interval.

Anyway, I had a very big target window for my paces, 5:50-6:40 for the fast splits and 7:20-8:00 for the slow ones but thankfully I'm getting better at judging the effort purely by feel rather than the watch, so I just worked on running fast but relaxed on the fast splits and faster than jogging pace on the slower ones.

6:27, 6:24, 6:25, 6:16, 6:24, 6:27, 6:27 pace for the fast bits, steady pace 7:40-7:45 throughout. The HR was 161 for the first interval and 164/165 for all the other ones.

In the end I was pleasantly surprised by a few things: the effort level was never an issue, I could have done more but was under strict instructions not to exceed 7. The pace and especially the HR was incredibly stable, that's the best workout I've ever done in that regard. And the fact that I had at least one more interval left was great, that's how you should always feel at the end of a workout. My right calf felt a bit tender during the cool down as well as later that day, so it's good that I ended it then rather than pushing on further.

I had another feat of endurance that evening, attending the Guns n' Roses concert in Slane. I ended up on my feet for over 6 hours, with plenty of jumping around and quite a few miles of walking to and from the venue. But the old guys on stage were great, just as good a concert as the last time I'd seen them, about 25 years ago, well worth it.

I came home at 2 am (pretty good going, actually) and got a few hours of sleep but today, Sunday, I'm tired. To what extend that's due to the training, the concert or the lack of sleep is open to debate but 8 miles at snails pace was all I did today. You still try to stay on the right side of the recovery curve.

26 May
8.5 miles, 1:04:11, 7:33 pace, HR 153
   incl. 6 miles @ 7:21 (HR 160)
27 May
13 miles, 1:39:12, 7:37 pace, HR 152
   6:27, 6:24, 6:25, 6:16, 6:24, 6:27, 6:27 pace 800s, 7:40-7:45 miles "recovery"
28 May
8 miles, 1:08:07, 8:30 pace, HR 138

Friday, May 26, 2017

There is ever so slightly contradicting feedback this week. The numbers aren’t particularly great, my HR is far higher for any given run than I would like and higher than I would estimate from pure effort. On the other hand, I’m starting to feel really good again; at least on most days. My Achilles troubles have finally gone away and the knee is barely noticeable anymore, so I’m definitely back in business. There is nothing I can do about the lost training. At least I was still able to run every day but a few workouts had to be binned.

I’m starting to settle into a routine. I somehow managed to squeeze my bike into my tiny car when driving back from Kerry on Sunday, so now I have an extra option for the commute. What I ended up doing was to cycle in on Monday morning with a big backpack containing office clothes for the whole week and run most of the other times.

Tuesday morning went particularly well, I felt really good but still took it easy and was flabbergasted when I looked at the numbers afterwards and saw 7:35 pace. It was the downhill part of the commute but even so I would have thought the effort was closer to 8-minute pace.

I had an extra run on Tuesday evening when Anto, he of Donadea fame, invited me to a run in the Wicklow mountains, He brought me towards Lough Dan where we proceeded to run through some rather rough territory – it wasn’t even trail running half the time, just plain bushwhacking, and I still have the scratches form the gorse to prove it. That had been my second run that day after the  morning commute and I was suitably tired afterwards. Therefore I cut Wednesday’s mid-week long run down by a couple of miles to a mere 13, taking the scenic route back home from work. That will work in future for the times I need a bit more than 5.5 miles at a time.

It didn’t come as much of a surprise that the legs were a bit heavy on Thursday morning, so I took it rather easy on the commute to work – and on the way home again, though the headwind and the uphill miles made that a bit of a struggle

I’m racking up the miles again, not as much as I used to in the past, but a lot more than earlier in the year when I was still recovering from my overtraining. I can tell a massive difference between what I was like before Albi and now. The move to Dublin and the added stress that came with it did some damage but I’m over the worst now.

22 May
5.5 miles, 43:24, 7:53 pace, HR 145
23 May
am: 5.5 miles, 41:44, 7:35 pace, HR 146
pm: 7.6 miles, 1:39:18, 13:02 pace, off-road
24 May
13 miles, 1:44:41, 8:03 pace, HR 147
25 May
am: 5.5 miles, 44:03, 8:00 pace, HR 144
pm: 5.5 miles, 46:23, 8:26 pace, HR 145